Tongan Ark

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“There are two kinds of education: One for criticism! And one for submissiveness! There is no third.” — Futa Helu

Director: Paul Janman
Year: 2012
Country: New Zealand
Running time: 69 mins

Screenplay/Photography: Paul Janman
Producer: Echo Zeanah-Janman
Editors: Paul Janman,
Malcolm Clarke
Music: Anna Rice
In English and Tongan, with English subtitles

With: Futa Helu, Atolomake Helu, Sisi’uno Helu-Langi, Kik Velt, Michael Horowitz, Opeti Taliai

World Premiere

Paul Janman’s lyrical documentary inducts us into the surprising world of Futa Helu and his ‘Atenisi Institute, an unconventional Tongan institution that proudly stands apart from church and state. Polynesian and classical European cultures entwine in what is probably the world’s smallest and poorest university, built on the swampy outskirts of Nuku’alofa. It is a place that prides itself on freedom of expression and thought, but also a place of rigorous devotion to a very purist notion of education, based on the teachings of the ancient Greek philosophers whom its founder valued above all. The Institute has fallen on tough times of late; among the crumbling buildings students are sometimes outnumbered by the stray dogs and pigs that wander the campus. It has survived due to the fundraising efforts of the school’s performing arts troupe, who specialise in another of Futa’s great loves: classical Italian opera. As Futa’s health declines, the burden of preserving the school falls increasingly on his somewhat hesitant family and the school’s eccentric faculty. — MM

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